For many young people being an au pair is a totally new situation. They are in a new environment, surrounded by people they don’t know in a country they have never been to before. Some are very open and extrovert. They don’t have a problem with unknown situations and people. They meet someone and start talking and open up easily. Others are introvert and don’t open up that quickly. They are shy and don’t talk at first because they have to get used to it.
Most of the au pairs start talking once they got used to their host family. But some never will and this can become a problem for the family. The person responsible for child care needs to be able to talk to the kids while playing with them or while they are on the road They need to be able to repromand them. A quiet au pair will have a problem to be seen as the person in charge by the kids.
Also the au pair needs to talk to the host parents in case that any problems or issues occur and they have to be discussed. If the child care doesn’t talk once there have been problems with the kids or if they had to talk to e.g. a teacher the host parents can’t handle a situation properly.
Talks to teachers will most likely be necessary since the au pair is the one picking the kids up from from school or kindergarten. She/He will be the person the educators will correspond to even if it’s only to let them know that they would like to be contacted by the children’s parents.
What to do?
If the au pair is a quiet person the host parents have to talk to her or him. It is necessary that the new family member opens up and takes responsibility and this also starts with talking to people in different situations. If the host parents notice that there is a communication problem with the au pair they should talk to her/him right away.
Listening to a family of native speakers communicate in the country’s language is difficult. It may take all of her/his effort to listen, so responding during a conversation as quickly as everybody else may be too difficult. If the au pair keeps eating with the family or watches TV with them, then it will come. So when you direct questions to her/him, say her/his name first to queue the au pair that she/he needs to start listening.
Build conversational skills at the dinner table – your kids need to learn to listen as much as they need to learn to talk. What did you like best today? But you can try almost anything with your au pair – Who is the most interesting person you have met and why? Just don’t ask a “Yes/No”-question. That one is easy to answer for the au pair and won’t bring the conversation forward.
Try a family game night on a Friday or Saturday instead of watching TV together if the au pair is around. If your kids are young, then pick an age-appropriate game. If they’re older, then try a board game that requires some degree of cooperation. Build some new family traditions that force your au pair to put down the phone if she/he is on it the whole time. Introduce her to some of your family’s favorite games.
Of course there is not the same solution for every individual, but it’s worth a try.